Relationships between farmers and customers are at the crux of the local food system. When people get to know their farmers, they can ask questions about how their food is produced.
Talking to farmers is also a way to learn why they choose certain production practices, like why Melissa George of Mountainside Family Farms raises livestock on open pasture.
“All of our animals have access to fresh air, to sunshine, to green grass,” she says. “It’s taking the natural home of the animal and the natural tendencies—you’re letting a chicken be a chicken, you’re letting a pig be a pig, a cow be a cow—and when you do that, it creates this wonderful, renewable, sustainable environment that makes farming such a pleasure such a joy to be a part of.”
Melissa’s first experience with livestock was with her family cow. She lived in Ohio as a child, and every year they would raise a steer for meat.
“We would raise it on pasture and then when you go get it processed and you bring everything back, you’ve got a freezer full of meat. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world,” she says. “We did it for our family and I loved being connected to your food: knowing where it comes from, being able to know that you’ve taking care of it. It was just embedded in me at a very young age, and it’s important to us and what we do on our farm now.”
Now Melissa and and her husband Collin farm in Swannanoa, North Carolina, and they’ve formed a partnership with Will and Amy Campbell of Saltville, Virginia. They each raise livestock on their respective properties. They market under a shared label called Mountainside Family Farms, and both farms follow the same pasture-based production practices.
Melissa says regular communication helps the families work together. They talk weekly or monthly about where their animals are in the production cycle so they can coordinate when the beef and pork will be processed together at the USDA facility in Taylorsville, North Carolina.
The meat is not available nationally, and is sold locally in Western North Carolina through buyers clubs that meet once a month. Customers host the buyers club gatherings, and Melissa comes in advance to deliver the meat. “I’m the one who drops it off, so if they ever have any questions or anything like that, they can ask me face-to-face,” she says. Customers can also order online and pick up the meat at the farm in Swannanoa. “We want to build trust with our community and build relationships.”
Having personal connections with food and where it’s grown harkens back to another one of Melissa’s childhood experiences with agriculture—when she would ride her bike down the road to pick up eggs for her family.
“I have very, very fond memories of growing up and whoever got to ride their bike to go get the eggs. It was a big deal, a great responsibility,” she says. “So you ride your bike down the road and you go into the little area back behind the house, across from the chicken coop, and you get your eggs and you put the money in and then you hold the grocery bag on your handlebars and you better not break an egg on the way home because you’d be in big trouble!”
Luckily, Melissa made it home with the eggs intact most of the time, and she learned the value of seeing food at its source.
“Knowing where your food comes from and being able to know that person who takes care of the animals or even going to see the animals when you’re there visiting, juts picking up the eggs and being able to connect to your food source is a great memory,” she says. “I believe that building community is important and being able to have trust in where your food comes from is an important factor of nutrition.”
Melissa George is now helping other families connect with where their food comes from. Learn more about Appalachian Grown food and farms, and where you can find them in ASAP’s local food guide – www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: March 25, 2018